Lots of women have PMS symptoms which effect the body and the mind. Symptoms happen each month 7 to 14 days before the period. If you’re not sure if this applies to you, try tracking the symptoms in a food and mood diary, or use one of the popular mobile phone apps. We might have been brought up to think that it’s just being part of a woman, and indeed it is normal for our energy levels to ebb and flow in different ways across the cycle but we don’t have to suffer. Yoga, nutrients and food can help support you.
Many women find that stress will exacerbate PMS symptoms. The science behind this is that there’s a pathway or you can imagine a flow chart which has a choice between producing the stress hormone cortisol, or producing the sex hormones DHEA and then progesterone. Basically the same nutrients are needed for the stress hormone and the sex hormones.
so if we’re stressed the pathway diverts to producing cortisol at the expense of the sex hormones. If our levels of progesterone are then too low in comparison to oestrogen, it is known as hormone imbalance or oestrogen dominance. This is one of the possible causes of PMS in some women.
Yoga is known to help with stress.
A regular class or a 10 minute practice each day would be a good start. It doesn’t matter what you do, just do something that meets your needs. My main advice is to go with your energy level. If you’re tired take more rests and work more slowly. On some days you might prefer to practice yoga on your own rather than in a class, your yoga might be 10 minutes in a resting corpse pose (savasana) or 10 minutes breathing. You’re helping your nervous system to reset.
Key Nutrients and Types of PMS
Some of the key nutrients are magnesium, vitamin B6, calcium, inositol, evening primrose oil and agnus castus. Women might also benefit from support with the processes that produce serotonin, our happy hormone.
The type of PMS can influence what is needed:
PMS A for Anxiety: Irritability, mood swings and anxiety. PMS D for Depression: Crying, confusion, insomnia. PMS H for Hydration: Weight gain, swelling, breast tenderness, bloating. PMS for Carbohydrates: Headaches, sweet cravings, increased appetite, dizziness.
We’ve all got different tolerance levels for certain foods but refined sugar, caffeine and alcohol are common culprits and worth cutting back for both reducing PMS and general health reasons. Anyone with menstrual migraines would want to look into specific food groups that include red wine, chocolate and avocados.
Another important area is blood sugar balancing which means eating regular meals and snacks, and choosing meals that are more protein than carbohydrate dominant. Have a handful of pasta with your chicken breast, rather than just a bowl of pasta and tomatoes.
Foods containing phytoestrogens are a woman’s friend, examples are flaxseeds and miso soup. The phytoestrogen gets in the way of the natural oestrogen by docking on the oestrogen receptors, but is has less of an effect. The overall effect can be less oestrogen acting on the body.
Does the Digestive System Need Focus?
The digestive system and liver are fundamental in processing the hormones. If they aren’t working optimally then there could be hormone issues. Once oestrogen has been used it should be excreted, if we haven’t got regular bowel movements then it won’t be, or if we’ve got bacterial imbalance the bacteria in the bowel can then cause this waste oestrogen to re-circulate. Digestive stool tests can analyse the bacteria and give an insight to this. Try including gut balancing foods like natural yoghurts and sauerkraut, and liver support foods such as bitter leaves like rocket and chicory.
Rest and Relax
It may sound like a cliché but honouring your cycle rather than fighting it might give some relief. If you need more sleep a few nights a month then let it happen, plan in a bit of downtime and make an appointment with yourself for relaxing bath or a bit of yoga.
Joanne Hart is a Registered Nutritional Therapist (BSc (Hons) and a Yoga Teacher (BWY Dip).